Speaking to Environment Journal, the leader of East Sussex County Council, Cllr Keith Glazier admits in the past the region has missed ‘out on a coordinated approach to transport issues’.
The new partnership, which was launched last month, brings together the area’s 16 transport authorities and five local enterprise partnerships to work directly with the Department for Transport.
It will also involve road and rail-builders, Highways England and Network Rail, transport operators, transport users and other key interest groups.
And it is currently operating in shadow form, but intends to secure full government backing and statutory powers within two years.
Cllr Glazier says the idea for the group came from an ADEPT conference last year, which featured presentations from other regional transport partnerships, such as Transport for the North and Midland Connect.
‘I noticed how civil servants and politicians were listening intently,’ he recalls.
‘I thought to myself, as did others, that the south east was missing out on a coordinated approach to transport issues,’ adds Cllr Glazier. ‘Hence we started the ball rolling.’
The area covered by the new group takes in Berkshire, Brighton and Hove, Kent, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Medway, Portsmouth, Southampton, Surrey, East Sussex and West Sussex.
As a region, it has 7.5 million residents and more than 24,000 miles of road while its ports collectively handle 81 million tonnes of freight each year.
‘The south east is only second to London when it comes to providing revenue for the government, and yet we have missed out on major strategic infrastructure funding.
‘I genuinely believe, as do all my colleagues, that by working together we can coordinate the needs about the south east and be realistic about our approach, because clearly there is not a big pot of money in government that will allow these things to happen.’
Cllr Glazier says one of the big priorities for the group is improving connectivity around the region.
‘We have some major strategic projects that are going ahead, such as the Lower Thames Crossing and the expansion of Heathrow,’ he says. ‘They are all out there now and yet our ability to put them in the context of the whole south east is pretty limited. I think one voice speaking on behalf of all of us will have much more of an effect.’
And regarding the ongoing problems with Southern Rail, which for many commuters is one of the defining regional transport issues of the moment, Cllr Glazier says ‘the sooner the government, unions and Southern sort it out, the better’.
‘I think going forward we would want to be heavily involved in the [rail] franchise process,’ he adds.
He says the group will have a much wider remit than just local government.
‘This is not about spending local government road maintenance funds in different ways. This is about taking a strategic view of what would enable the south east to work better.
‘We have some major businesses now that are thinking because of the lack of connectivity about whether they in the right place and should they move? We can’t be complacent about these things. We just need to address the issues of business and the people who live here.’
Cllr Glazier said they have also invited the chair of the South Downs National Park Authority, Margaret Paren, to have a seat on their board to make sure environmental issues are considered as well.
‘It’s important we work closely with TfL and we would encourage them to have a seat on our board, because what happens in London is as important to us as what happens here to them,’ he says.
He adds that the new body will also look at issues around electric vehicles, smart ticketing and the region’s ports.
‘It’s about joining up and taking a holistic approach,’ he says. ‘There are so many opportunities if we get this right. It is about people at the highest level understanding this is about the strategic stuff.’
Leader of Surrey County Council, David Hodge, comments: ‘This is an important step towards our aim of improving travel for commuters and businesses in the region, whether that’s by rail, road or air.
‘Not only will working as one team in this way give us a bigger say on delivering better transport, it will mean we can help to drive growth in the engine room of the nation’s economy.’
Photo by Highwaysengland